The McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin has tweaked the wording of one its MBA application essay questions this season in what we believe is a subtle nod to the uncertainty caused by the (seemingly endless) coronavirus pandemic. Otherwise, the queries remain unchanged and still focus on eliciting the same fundamental information from candidates. The school’s required self-introduction essay (or video, for those who prefer that option) has been in play since at least 2013, and for its second essay, applicants are asked to imagine the end point of their MBA studies and to reflect on what they have gained and learned at McCombs within the context of their goals. Anyone with a potential problem area or unclear element in their profile can also submit an optional essay to address the issue(s). As a whole, the Texas McCombs essays give applicants ample opportunity to provide meaningful insight into their characters and strengths. Read on for our entire analysis of the program’s essay prompts for 2020–2021.
Essay 1: We will learn a lot about your professional background through your resume and letter of recommendation, but we want to get to know you further. Please introduce yourself. Select only one communication method for your response.
- Write an essay (250 words)
- Share a video introduction (one minute in length)
The Texas McCombs admissions committee offers a little clarifying text before its straightforward request for an introduction, guiding applicants to steer away from aspects of their story that will already be covered in their resume and recommendations. Otherwise, candidates have an arguably blank slate from which to begin here. We imagine that the less guidance a program provides with its essay questions, the more panic is generated in the hearts of hopeful applicants, but let us reassure you that you do not need to be intimidated. Some patience, self-reflection, brainstorming, and authenticity—with a dash of creativity—and you should be on the road to a standout submission.
First, determine the format that is more compatible with your personality. If you are the quiet, thoughtful type, an essay may be the better choice; if you are typically the life of the party or a better speaker than writer, you should probably select the video option. Next, start identifying the kind of information you might share by thinking about what you would like to know about a new person you are meeting and would find interesting, helpful, or intriguing. For example, would you consider someone’s age or undergraduate institution particularly important or compelling? Probably not, so you should skip mentioning such facts in your own introduction. (Remember, too, that your actual audience will be a member of the admissions committee, who will already know such basic information about you from the rest of your application.) You would likely be more curious about what someone does in their spare time, what interesting or exceptional skills they have, whether they are approachable/funny/hyperorganized/a risk taker/etc., whether they have extensive experience in a certain area or a more wide-ranging background, and so on.
So think about the aspects of your personality and profile that you believe truly define you as an individual—not just what you do and have done, but who you are—and fully explore your background, hobbies, talents, experiences, values, goals, and quirks. Brainstorm an extensive list and then eliminate any items that seem too common (e.g., a BA in finance) or basic (e.g., your hometown) until you have a collection of truly distinctive qualities you can weave into your response. Your goal is to provide a well-rounded picture of yourself that draws from multiple areas and shows that you possess characteristics and/or knowledge that would make you a positive addition to McCombs’ diverse community.
Remember to bring energy and enthusiasm to your submission. You are not filling out a job application—you are trying to connect with others, so charisma is welcome, and a less rigid and traditionally “professional” demeanor is okay. Forego any fancy essay-writing or dramatic tactics (e.g., starting with a quotation, launching into an anecdote), and just be as natural and authentic as possible. Do not pitch your candidacy, detail your career goals, or express your admiration for the program. As they say, you only have one chance to make a first impression, so dedicate the time and effort necessary to ensure that your introduction is engaging, substantive, and true to who you are.
If you choose to submit a video, think beyond what you will say and also consider the clothing you will wear, the setting or background, your tone of voice, your language style, whether you will include music, and other similar details. Brainstorm ways of nonverbally communicating some of your strongest attributes and key aspects of your life to help permeate your submission with as much information as possible. For example, if you are an avid biker, consider filming your video while you are actively riding. If you are a dedicated musician, perhaps incorporate your instrument into your message by playing it while you speak (if you are especially confident, you might even sing about yourself!). Think about what makes you who you are today, decide what you most want to share about yourself, and then let your creativity flow.
On a practical note, be sure to speak clearly in your video. You naturally do not want any part of your message to be lost or misunderstood, and the admissions committee may view your communication skills and style as indicators of how you might interact with your classmates and/or speak in the classroom. Spend some time practicing in front of a mirror or a friend, but do not overrehearse. And definitely do not try to read from an off-camera script or notes (trust us—they will be able to tell!). You want to come across as genuine and natural.
Essay 2: Picture yourself at the completion of your MBA journey. Describe how you spent your time as a Texas McCombs MBA student to achieve your personal and professional goals. (500 words)
The most noteworthy change to this query from last year is that the school is now asking candidates to picture themselves “at the completion of [their] MBA journey” rather than “at graduation.” Given the havoc the COVID-19 pandemic has caused so far and will continue to wreak for an unknown length of time, McCombs likely does not want to assume or predict a return to graduation as normal. Nevertheless, we would not expect this slight change to have any real effect on the content of applicants’ essays.
With this prompt, the McCombs admissions committee is asking you to imagine where you want to go after you have completed your MBA studies (in both your career and your life more generally) and explain how you used your time at the school to prepare yourself to get there. So, without using the actual words “why McCombs?” and “how do you expect to engage with our community?,” the school is nevertheless asking you for precisely this information.
The admissions committee essentially wants to know what has compelled you to choose McCombs in particular for your MBA and how you will take advantage of specific resources and experiences it offers. The assumption is that something you have learned about McCombs leads you to believe that its MBA program will provide the experience, knowledge, skills, exposure, and/or other element you need to reach your goals. Likewise, something makes you feel you would fit well with the McCombs environment and be comfortable there. So what has given you that impression? All the top MBA programs want reassurance that the candidates they admit have not applied simply because of the school’s reputation or ranking but rather because they are truly excited to be a part of the community and to benefit from that specific learning experience. McCombs is not simply seeking warm bodies with which to fill its classrooms; it is striving to add to a long history of effective global business leaders and a network of alumni dedicated to the school and each other. Demonstrating your authentic interest in the program by offering concrete examples and drawing clear connections between who you want to be and what the school offers is key to crafting a compelling essay response.
If you have targeted McCombs because you feel it is the right program for you, you likely already have an idea of why that is true and how you would function as part of its community. If you do not yet have a handle on these points, you definitely need to start (now!) researching the school thoroughly, including interacting directly with students and/or alumni. Identify at least one (ideally more) resource, offering, or quality that McCombs has that is unique or that it excels in that directly relates to what you need to attain your post-MBA goals. And do not just offer a list—you must explain how the identified element(s) will fulfill particular needs for you.
Keep in mind that business school is not only about course work and recruiting, and McCombs specifically asks about achieving your personal goals as well as your career aspirations. While you are a student, you can (and should!) also have fun, make friends, and be a contributing member of the community outside the classroom. So take care not to discuss only academic and professional development elements of the McCombs program. Explore the school’s social events and offerings—including affinity, social, and sports clubs, for starters—to identify other aspects of the experience that you anticipate will also play an important role in your MBA journey. Although we would not encourage you to force this angle and mention something just to tick a box, so to speak, addressing these options can be an effective way of revealing more of your values and personality to the admissions committee and thereby presenting a more well-rounded impression of yourself.
Optional Statement: Please provide any additional information you believe is important or address any areas of concern that you believe will be beneficial to MBA Admissions in considering your application (e.g., gaps in work experience, choice of recommender, academic performance, or extenuating personal circumstances). (250 words)
We tend to believe that the best use of the optional essay is to explain confusing or problematic issues in your candidacy, and this prompt offers an opportunity to do just that. So, if you need to, this is your chance to address any questions an admissions officer might have about your profile. Consider downloading a free copy of our mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, in which we offer detailed advice on deciding whether to submit an optional essay and on how best to approach writing such a submission, with multiple examples.
However, because McCombs does not stipulate that you can only discuss a problem area in this essay, you have some leeway to share anything you think may be pivotal or particularly compelling. We caution you against trying to fill this space simply because you fear that not doing so would somehow count against you. Remember, by submitting an additional essay, you are asking the admissions committee to do extra work on your behalf, so you need to make sure that time is warranted. If you are using the essay to emphasize something that if omitted would render your application incomplete, take this opportunity to write a very brief narrative that reveals this key new aspect of your candidacy.